Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Promo Day!

I haven't done a "promo day" post in awhile, where I take a moment to talk up stuff that usually may not usually appear on this blog, but (1) I do like it and (2) kind folks have shared it with me. Today I'll feature two tracks that I'm really enjoying these days. One is by a very familiar name, the other is a hip-hop treat.

1. "Don't Know Why" - Smokey Robinson

Motown's poet laureate is certainly not a person who's out of place on Get on Down ..., and his new CD, Time Flies When You're Having Fun (Robso), a celebration of Robinson's 50 years in the business, shows that Smokey can still craft fine songs. Interestingly, though, the first track from the CD to get attention is a cover. Norah Jones' hit "Don't Know Why" gets a delightfully jazzy, "after hours" reading by Robinson, and it really works. The rest of the CD features a decidedly "quiet storm" bent, but Smokey's in good form, and guest turns by Joss Stone, Carlos Santana and Inda.Arie are also good.

2. "Don't Be Sheep (On Friday Night)" - Audible Mainframe

Hip-hop doesn't get much attention on this blog, but I do enjoy it, and I particularly enjoy stuff that's outside of the mainstream sounds that flow, unfortunately sometimes noxiously, from urban radio. I've found that hip-hop bands tend to be much more palatable, and the band Audible Mainframe's new CD, Transients, which is out tomorrow, is a great mixture of thoughtful, intelligent rap and fantastic music. The rock guitar-lead "Don't Be Sheep" is really doing it for me these days. The groove rushes along, and the catchy chorus will stick with you. It's a great slab of "get on down" that stands out on the album.

I'll try to do another "Promo Day" feature later in the week. But for now, dig these two!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Soul on the Air #13 - Bill "Butterball" Crane, 1967

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The parade of WVON "Good Guys" continues with today's "Soul on the Air" feature, and of all the "Good Guys," I have received more than a few requests for today's subject, Bill "Butterball" Crane. Although Bill Crane was not the only "Butterball" plying his trade on R&B radio in the '60s and '70s - there was a Butterball in Philadelphia, and a "Butterball Jr." in Detroit, to name two - he's the only one for whom I've found any airchecks.

Bill Crane grew up in Chicago's Ida B. Wells housing projects, where he cultivated a love of radio and electronics. Crane parlayed this interest into a radio career, and after a stint at Chicago's ill-fated WYNR he joined the WVON stable and local fame followed. I don't know much about his post-WVON career except that at the dawn of the twenty-first century he was a senior engineer for WGN radio, and I found a post on Soulful Detroit stating that he is alive and well. Hopefully I will be able to get more information after this post!

On to the aircheck itself. Today's feature finds Butterball holding court on August 25, 1967. In addition to Butterball's patter and the records, there's a lot of good stuff, ranging from the usual commercials of the era to an "On the Scene With Geraldine" segment ("On the Scene" featured ladies' fashion and homemaking advice by Bernadine C. Washington, one of the station's two female "Good Guys" - the other was Sunday gospel host Isabel Joseph Johnson) and a news break focused on the Democratic primaries in Jackson, Mississippi, in which black voters were expected to make an impact with their relatively-new freedom to vote. All of that good stuff, however, is just icing on the cake, as Butterball's slick and funny patter really shines among the great soul records that fill the aircheck. Dig Butterball's intro to Linda Jones' "Hypnotized," his plea to the engineer to allow him to play "O-O I Love You" by the Dells twice in a row, his comment about his "raggedy" "natural" hairdo during a Billy Stewart record and his shouting over King Curtis' "Memphis Soul Stew" that kicks off the second part of the aircheck. "Who's that ringing my telephone? Who's calling me?" he bellows. "Mr. Chess [either Leonard or Phil, Chess Records and WVON owners] says I can't have no company, y'all!" Although Herb Kent makes it clear in his memoirs that such a rule wasn't always followed (he mentions that sometimes he and other jocks would pay the engineer to set up long uninterrupted sets so that the jocks could, ahem, entertain), it tickles me every time I hear it. Near the end of the aircheck, Butterball hands off to E. Rodney Jones, and the first few minutes of his show close out the aircheck.

One last note about the various "Butterballs": Crane and at least one of the other "Butterballs" also were part of the parade of soul DJs who tried their hand at making soul records. Our Butterball's Lock two-parter "Steppin' Tall" is a funk favorite, but even bigger among funk fans is a "Butterball" (from where, I don't know) whose "Butterballs" is a seriously-slamming, hard-hitting, piece of funk that features some of the strongest proto-rap I've heard on any 45 by a soul jock. Both tunes are very good, though, and I will try to feature them on the blog at some point. But for now, get on down with the Butterball of WVON!